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The China Post
Seventeen primary school pupils taken to a hospital in Singapore a month ago for vomiting and diarrhea were not poisoned by food, but a toy they had bought at a school fair.
They had played with it shortly before they used their hands to eat snacks at a class party.
The culprit was phthalates – substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility. Traces were found on the China-made plastic toy, and had rubbed off on the children’s hands.
The toy, on a key ring, is shaped like a pod. When squeezed, a bean pops out.
The incident has led the consumer watchdog chief to urge the authorities to look into ensuring that toys brought into Singapore are safe.
Consuming phthalates can cause diarrhoea, nausea, stomach ache and vomiting. Eaten in large enough amounts over a prolonged period of time, they can also cause infertility and death.
The Ai Tong School pupils were sent to the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) on Feb. 4, after they started vomiting. Many also had diarrhea and stomach cramps. They have all since recovered.
It was originally believed that they had been sickened by the potato chips, cheese balls and prawn crackers they ate at the party.
Investigators found otherwise.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) revealed that the pupils had played with the toy and had not washed their hands properly before eating.
Laboratory tests identified the presence of two compounds, dibutyl phthalates and diethylhexyl phthalates. These compounds were banned from all toys and childcare items in the European Union in 2005. It is not known where else the toy – named the Extrusion Bean and manufactured in Zhejiang – is available here.
But 80 were sold at a Science Fair on Feb. 4 and 5 at Ai Tong School by importer Kevin Toh.
Mr Toh, the only known importer of the toy, has halted sales and destroyed all unsold inventory.
“It was our fault for not testing the toys before importing them,” said the 30-year-old, adding that no products had been sold outside the school.
The school said it had told all parents and pupils about the cause of the poisoning, and had asked them to throw away the toy and not play with other toys bought from the same vendor.
Toys imported into Singapore are not screened. Spring Singapore, which oversees imports of some consumer products into Singapore, screens electrical products to make sure they are safe to use.
Just two days ago, the media reported that lead-tainted Daiso toys were still being sold in Singapore, though they had been pulled from shelves in the United States.
When asked if it would start regulating toys and children’s products, a Spring Singapore spokesman said the Government was concerned about the cases and was working with the relevant agencies and affected distributors and retailers on the situation.
The authorities have urged toy owners to discard the Extrusion Bean toy immediately, and to seek medical help for any discomfort such as diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach cramp.
Consumers who bought the toy are also urged to inform Case of where they bought it. The consumer watchdog is also asking all distributors and retailers of the toy to stop selling the product immediately.